Wealthy Europeans, military leaders, and Ethiopian royalty are a few of the characters seen repeatedly
in these photographs. From political meetings to formal dinner parties, Rikli documents the interactions
and relationships of these distinguished characters to create a complex social narrative.
Vacation and Leisure
In Rikli's time, Ethiopia was advertised as an exotic vacation spot, complete with water sports,
horseback riding, and leisurely days on the beach. However, these activities were marketed exclusively
to wealthy Europeans. Rikli's photos capture Ethiopians as onlookers, not participants in these
Rikli took photos of scenes in Ethiopia that were strikingly dissimilar to life in Europe at the time in an
effort to prove that Europe was culturally superior. Images of African animals such as lions and
monkeys, as well as nude portraits of Ethiopian women were a departure from the accepted social
standards of European life. Rikli's photographs were intended to portray a world that Europeans could
only imagine-a place that was wild, uncivilized and exotic.
Though relatively brief, the second Italo-Abyssinian war left many scars on the Ethiopian landscape.
Graphic images of Ethiopians casualties left in the streets of the devastated capital city of Addis-Ababa
are a visual reminder of the violence that took place. Rikli's presence as a colonial European is bolstered
by photos that include Swastikas and other Nazi-related imagery.
Casting the Characters and Scenes of Martin Rikli's 1930s Ethiopian Photography
In 1927, German cinematographer, author, and photographer, Martin Rikli, joined a research team
traveling to East Africa to film a documentary. Over the next 15 years, he created a number of films for
German cinema and in 1935, found himself in Ethiopia. There he began the work of documenting the
Italian invasion of Ethiopia (Abyssinia). Later in life, Rikli was behind the creation of much Nazi
propaganda before and during WWII.
During his time in Ethiopia, Rikli took more than 800 photographs, compiled here into three albums
entitled "Abessinien 1935-1936". A fourth album contains Rikli's notes and descriptions of the photos.
These albums serve as a valuable visual history of the second Italo-Abyssinian War.
The photographs in these albums depict a variety of people, places, and events as seen through the lens
of Martin Rikli's camera. While there are hundreds of unique photos in this collection, four major
themes emerge to tell the story of 1930s Ethiopia.
You are invited and encouraged to draw your own conclusions about Martin Rikli and his photography
collection. The people and events he chose to capture, and the way he often chose to frame them, send
a very strong message about Ethiopia and its place in the world as a colonized nation during this
tumultuous time in history.